It remains one of the great mysteries of God, this question of eternal security. I can only hope to perhaps describe the battle’s landscape for those who still question, and offer some insights in the hope that it may propose a different viewpoint that considers the dogma on either side. I stand, as would the confident politician, to boldly to proclaim that I don’t know the answer to this mystery, and thus marvel at the dogma so prescient on either side. Can one proclaiming the eternal security dogma summarily dismiss the biblical evidence to the contrary? Likewise, can one who embraces as gospel that the redeemed soul can fall away summarily dismiss the biblical evidence so contrary to their position?
I am persuaded that God saves us for His sake and not for ours, and then says, “No one can snatch you out of My hand” (John 10). This convinces me that it truly is in His hands once we “believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths.” Yet I am also persuaded that this same God warns His own the crowns of those who do not endure in that confession, through some portion of will and discipline of the soul once the confession is made, can be removed (Rev 3). How does one have taken from him that which he never possessed? Likewise, how can one “fall away” from that perch upon which he never stood (1 Tim 4:1)?
Furthermore, I am brought to wonder how a God complete and perfect in every way would have one aspect of His character so overpower another as to render it silent when court is convened, and the book is opened that determines the eternal destiny of men’s souls. Does a God whose love so overwhelms His requirements for justice and obedience render His completeness lacking, and therefore bring into question His very Godhood? How could “God,” who is complete, ultimate, and perfect in every way suffer from such and imbalance of ability? The arguments are far too numerous and complex to give simple answers to.
I do not know, nor do I believe any other man knows, that which cannot be known. And contrary to feeling uncomfortable with such a crucial issue, I am very comfortable not knowing. The purveyors of the dogma on either side of this debate feel they must haggle and contend until they win the unwinnable argument, and there is no comfort or peace in that. When considering a mystery such as this our finite minds cannot possibly grasp, to rise up and say, “I know” seems great folly. I can only credit such foolishness to the pride of man, which demands there must be an answer to the patently unanswerable.
The combatants over this issue line up like tennis players on either side of the net, where the truth is found, serving and volleying in vain because there will never be a victor. However, the game ends with a simple, “I don’t know the answer” from one who has thought it out. The eternal security pundit quotes all of their cherry-picked verses to me, and I say, “Amen, that’s the Word of God so how can I say it’s untrue?” Likewise, those who hold to forfeiture of salvation quote their verses and I say “Amen” for the same reason. No one who understands the nature of a mystery needs argue about it, because they have no point to prove.
Who wins unwinnable arguments is of little importance, but what is important is the fruit our doctrines bear. Jesus said all trees would be known by their fruit (Matt. 12:33). Teachers of God’s truth need consider this well, and also take seriously those accepting the mantle of leader face a stricter judgment (Jas. 3:1) for the quality of that fruit. To these I propose that when we teach, we lay aside our personal bents on mysteries and, first, teach Scriptures from both viewpoints, and second, proclaim that which is most edifying for our disciples. We need to consider well that our spirit as teachers should rightly be as Paul’s when he says, “For now we really live if you stand firm in the Lord…you are our glory and joy” (1 Thess. 2). If we can agree it is our flock we first need to consider when we teach, then what would prudence demand in this debate?
There is a quality sorely missing from the modern American Christianity [MAC] that I believe this mystery has much to do with, that being a disturbing lack of a reverence for the Almighty. The fear of God so proclaimed in both Old and New Testaments has been diluted to the point of making it almost unbelievable to the modern Christian. By summarily dismissing the possibility a merciful God would still be endowed with the ultimate discipline of damnation, so as to restore the unrepentant and practiced offender from his former destiny in hell, do we not reduce God to something less than fearful? How can we look at the fruit of MAC, which has overwhelmingly endorsed the eternal security dogma over the past 100 years, and not wonder at the fruit that has produced?
Furthermore, I am persuaded that the ultimate question we will be forced to answer on that fateful day will have much more to do with what we did, than what we said. It will have far more to do with the fruit we bore with our lives, than any position we may proclaim with our mouths (Matt. 7:21-23). And to that end is not the healthy fear of a God, whose power to judge and to damn that rivals His power to love and forgive, not going to motivate men beyond grace to a healthy fear of Him, and to do those “good deeds He has prepared beforehand for them to do?” The sons of Adam have always taken the path of least resistance, for it is their curse and the reason for their fall. If eternal security is one path, and a crucible of faith another, does that not give us pause to wonder which side of this debate we should, for our own good, embrace?
To use an oft promoted argument in evangelical circles, if those who presume one cannot fall from grace are right, those believing to the contrary will have lost nothing in the end for being incorrect. On the contrary, if those who teach one can forfeit his salvation are found to be true, then those who have presumed wrongly stand to face a terrifying reality.
I say all of this to say when I teach others, prudence demands considering the ultimate good of those put in my charge over my own. That being the case, I must proclaim the possibility that one can fall from grace if found to be persistently and consistently unrepentant and disobedient. I certainly cannot embrace the doctrine that has so mislead MAC into her current malaise without at least challenging it. That my charges should embrace and walk as those endowed with a healthy fear of God demands nothing less. To fail to do so is to shirk my responsibility to put their sanctification, and possibly their salvation, above my own, and thus abandon the high calling of shepherd to hold my disciple’s edification as my top priority.
I pray the presumption of eternal security is correct for the abundance of the impending harvest of souls. But until the revelation come that transforms mystery to knowledge, I must choose to teach what love for those entrusted to my care faily demands. I must teach that which breeds in them reverence for God which leads to practice of holiness, not that which will continue to allow for the Laodicean malaise I witness now rampant where the dogma is so largely for a cheapened grace. I must in the least show the evidence for both sides, allowing the hearers to make up their own mind. In the end, a decision as to which side I choose personally remains the difficult question. But not so when considering that which I disseminate to still impressionable and seeking souls.
There is, finally, one true irony I have come to see: those who are concerned about the security of their salvation and act accordingly need’t be, and those who aren’t concerned about it typically act in a way that should make them sorely concerned. I have, therefore, come to Solomon’s way of thinking: “The conclusion of the matter is this: fear God and keep His commands for this applies to every man.” I have also come to the conclusion voiced by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a man whom I aspire to be like—a man whom we should all aspire to be like: “The doctrine of cheap grace has been the ruin of far more believers than any command of works.” There is no teaching that has allowed this Trojan Horse of cheap grace to slip behind our walls unnoticed like the eternal security dogma. To me there is no more needed doctrine at this point in time for our Laodicean church culture, than that which would lead to a holy fear of God. And in that debate, there is no mystery at all which dogma I shall choose to lean towards.